D'YE KEN JOHN PEEL?
HELEN NORSWORTHY SANGSTER
In his air-force blue this huntsman had "gone far away" — but they heard "his voice in the morning"
RIGHT from the first, as soon as she knew that two English children were coming to stay with George and Madeleine, Mrs. Martin was afraid it wouldn't work. “You take two children,” she said to Mr. Martin, “bring them out to a strange country to stay with people they hardly know; that’s hard enough. But put them with people that don’t like children, that haven’t any of their own—” She shook her head in anxious doubt.
Even if Geoige was her own son, Mrs. Martin had to admit that he and Madeleine were the last people she’d choose to look after a couple of homesick youngsters. They were too wrapped up in their own affairs to pay attention to children. Not that George hadn’t always been a good boy, she told herself loyally; helping to put himself through the university, never letting them want for a thing since he’d got on so well. It wasn’t George’s fault that they’d got so selfish. It was Madeleine.
Madeleine’s family was wealthy, and all her life she had had everything she wanted. It was for her that George had bought the big house in one of the best parts of the city. A beautiful house, Mrs. Martin admitted, but she couldn’t imagine two children living in it. She never liked stopping there herself.
Madeleine didn’t like coming up to the farm to stay, either. The Martins were too countrified to suit her taste. She and George stopped in for an hour or two sometimes, but Madeleine talked to them as if they were people she didn’t know very well, instead of her own husband’s folks.
They dropped in at the farm one day late in the summer on their way down from a week end in Muskoka. They wouldn’t stay to supper, just got out of the car and came in for a little while.
Madeleine walked up and down, sleek and restless as a cat in her beautifully tailored slacks and shirt. “We’re expecting some evacuees soon,” she said. “Ted and Molly Marriot’s children. You remember—we stayed with Lord and Lady Marriot when we were in England two summers ago.”
Mr. and Mrs. Martin remembered. They’d hardly heard a thing else about the trip. Old Lord Marriot had been a friend of Madeleine’s father; that’s how they’d got invited to Woodsley Hall. But you couldn’t tell Mrs. Martin they’d got to be such bosom friends with the Marriots as Madeleine made out, just staying with them a few days.
When the bombing got bad and people started sending their children out to Canada and the States where it was safe, George and Madeleine cabled to say they’d take the two Marriot children. That was fine; but Mrs. Martin knew Madeleine didn’t really want them. She just wanted to be able to say: “We have Lord and Lady Marriot’s children with us for the duration.”
Michael and Penny arrived early in September, with their nurse. Not their own nurse; for she was young and husky and had volunteered for war service. This was an oldish, sour-faced one who wanted her passage out; she had a sister living in Hamilton. Madeleine kept her on to look after the children because she didn’t want them underfoot. She liked showing them off when people dropped in, though. They were handsome mannerly little things, the Honorable Michael St. Charles Marriot, who was seven, and the Honorable Penelope Warrender Marriot, five.
It wasn’t till November that Mrs. Martin saw them. She had to go down to the city to get her glasses changed, so she spent the night with George and Madeleine.
There was no one home when she got up to the house after her appointment, only the servants. Tea was brought to her in the big living room; she never bothered with it at home, but today she was tired and it tasted good.
She was having a second cup when the children and their nurse came in from a walk. They seemed like nice healthy youngsters, she thought, real English looking with their blue eyes and fair hair and cheeks red as Macintosh apples.
When they had shaken hands and said “How do you do?,” shy and polite, the nurse wanted to hurry them away. Mrs. Martin told her to bring them back when they had their things off.
“Master Michael and Miss Penelope aren’t usually allowed to come in for tea,” the nurse said, prim and bossy.
Mrs. Martin stood right up to her. “Bring them this once,” she said firmly. “I may not have much more of a chance to get acquainted with them.”
HEY came back, a little timid at first.
“This is good cinnamon toast,” Mrs. Martin said. “Mow’d you like to help me eat it up?”
“We aren’t supposed to eat before our own tea,”— Michael eyed the toast longingly—“but sometimes Mummy lets us at home, for a treat.”
“This is a treat,” Mrs. Martin said. “Because I’m here on a visit.”
They took some toast. “We’re visiting, too,” Penny confided. “While our Daddy flies a plane and Mummy drives an ambulance in London.” You could tell, the way she said it, proud but matter-of-fact, that it didn’t mean anything worrying to her. These children must have a nice sensible mother; Mrs. Martin decided, telling them the truth, but not so as to frighten them. They were dressed the way children should be, too; nothing fancy, but everything of the best. Good warm clothes with plenty of wear to them.
They told her about their father and mother, and about living in the country, how they loved it. When she said she lived in the country, too, they came closer.
“Have you got cows and pigs and chickens?” Penny asked.
“Yes, sir! And horses, and a dog.”
Michael’s eyes shone. “Do you think we could come and visit you and see them all? I mean, if you wanted us.” His fair little face got red all over.
“Of course we’d want you to come, Dad and me,” Mrs. Martin said warmly. “We’ll have to see if you can’t come real soon.”
She didn’t suppose for a minute that Madeleine would let them come. She’d be afraid they would go home and tell their folks what a poky old farm George came from. But she talked to George about it that night, when they had a minute to themselves.
“They’d be quite a care for you, Mother,” George said. She had made it plain she didn’t want the nurse. “You’re not so young as you were, and you’re not used to having children around.”
“I’d be used to it if you and Madeleine had any,” Mrs. Martin said tartly. “And seventy’s not old, not if you’re well like I am.”
“Well, we’ll see,” George said. But he sounded doubtful. Mrs. Martin knew Madeleine would be the one to decide.
Mr. Martin was doubtful, too, when she got home and told him.
“You sure they’d like it here, Mother?” he said. “They’re used to having things fancy at George’s and Madeleine’s, and at home too, I guess.”
“They live on a farm in England,” Mrs. Martin said. “Maybe they do call it an estate, but they’ve got cows and chickens and horses just like we have. They’d like it, all right.”
Madeleine wouldn’t let them come up to the farm for Christmas. This was the year they went to Madeleine’s people for dinner, and Madeleine wanted the children there for everybody to see, all the Phillips relations and the people who dropped in.
IT WAS one night in January when she couldn’t get to sleep for worrying about Michael and Penny that Mrs. Martin had her idea. She had been thinking of all the people that came to George’s and Madeleine’s house, and the servants, how they’d be bound to talk about the air raids on London, the damage done and the people killed and all. The children couldn’t help hearing some of it, and they’d be frightened, after their mother and father trying so hard to make things sound all right. Maybe they’d been frightened already. Up here at the farm, now—
She could hardly wait for morning to tell Mr. Martin. He agreed. “That’s so; even Madeleine ought to see they’d be better off up here. You phone George tonight, see what he says.”
Madeleine would have refused again, but for once George put his foot down. “Let Mother have them for a couple of weeks,” he told her. “I’ll drive them up myself; I want to make a call up that way anyway.”
So the nurse went to stay with her sister in Hamilton, and George drove the children up to the farm.
It was not the kind of day Mrs. Martin had hoped for, white and sunny and crisp; it was dark and gloomy, with the snow shrinking so that the bare earth showed through. Everywhere there were slushy puddles, and as if that weren’t enough, a sleety rain was coming down. But when the car pulled up in the yard and she saw the smiling little faces pressed against the windows she knew it didn’t matter. After all, these were English children; they’d be used to bad weather.
Mr. Martin was standing back, reserved and shy the way he always was with strangers. But when young Michael sniffed the raw air, when he looked around and said: “Isn’t it like home, Penny?” he came over and made friends straight off. Even Gyp welcomed them, frisking around like a puppy instead of a fat old farm dog.
George was more like himself than he’d been for years. He didn’t seem in any hurry to be off again, and first thing Mrs. Martin knew he was out in the pantry, rummaging in the cooky crock.
He grinned at her. “I see you’re not going to neglect these youngsters, Mother.” He took a big bite of molasses cooky and beckoned to Michael and Penny. “You’ll always find something here to fill up the comers,” he said. “Help yourselves.”
“You’ll stay for supper, George?” Mrs. Martin said.
“Guess I might as well. I can make my call later. Y'ou wouldn’t be having any apple pie on hand, would you?”
“I made one fresh this morning,” Mrs. Martin said happily. “ I kind of thought you might want a piece.” She hadn’t dreamed he’d stay for supper, though. Or maybe she had, even if she hadn’t admitted it. She’d made that pie, and a big crock of pork and beans, rich with molasses and thick with chunks of salt pork the way George liked it, and Boston brown bread to eat along with it. Kind of heavy food, but she could give the children something else if they wanted and she’d made a custard for their dessert, plenty of eggs and milk in it, and brown sugar and cream to go on top.
In spite of the sleet they went down to the bam, Mr. Martin and George, and the children, crazy to see the animals, and Gyp, beside himself at being paid so much attention. “It’s nice to have a dog you can play with,” Michael said, his arms around Gyp’s shaggy neck. “There was a little Pekinese in the city, but we weren’t allowed to play with her because she’s too valuable, and anyway she didn’t like us.”
When they got back Mrs. Martin and Mary Smithers, the girl from the next farm who helped her in the house, had the table set, and there was a delicious smell of pork and beans warming in the oven, and brown bread steaming, and good strong coffee.
‘These are real farm children like you said, Mother,” Mr. Martin said. “Mike, here, knows about cows and horses fine. I can see he’s going to be a big help to me.”
Michael’s small chest swelled. “Am I really, sir?”
“You sure are,” Mr. Martin nodded solemnly. “Plenty to do around the place, even in winter. I can do with another hand.”
Mrs. Martin felt proud, as if they’d justified her belief in them. For all the Honorables in front of their names, and their English way of talking, these were just country youngsters, at home and comfortable with things around a farm.
George left soon after supper. “I’m afraid the children haven’t had much of a time in the city,” he said. “I’m glad they’ll be out here with you for a while. Be sure to let me know if they need anything, or if they’re too much for you. I’ll be up to get them in a couple of weeks.”
The two weeks flew by. It was nice having young ones around, running in and out and asking questions. There
were so many things that were new and strange to Penny and Michael that it kept Mr. and Mrs. Martin busy, explaining.
Mary Smithers was just as fond of them as the Martins. She was forever asking to brush Penny’s hair or help her dress. One day Penny put her arms around Mary’s neck and said: “Y'ou’re like our real Nannie, home in England. She’s good to us, and she’s pretty, just like you.”
Mary wasn’t used to being called pretty, with her thick solid body and fat red face. She was Penny’s slave from then on, always wanting to take her to the village, showing her off proudly, the little daughter of a real lord and lady.
The weather turned cold again in a few days. There was a snowstorm, a regular blizzard. The children stood in the window and watched the snow come down, in big lazy flakes at first, then faster and faster until it was a twisting
white curtain in the rising wind. They had never seen so much snow before.
By morning the storm was over and they went out into a world that was still and white, the air so dry and cold that their nostrils stuck together when they breathed. Mr. Martin hunted out the sleigh he’d made for George, low to the ground and heavy, and they raced down the little hill by the back pasture shrieking with delight. Gyp plunged along beside them, barking madly and burrowing his nose deep into the snow until even his ears were tufted with white.
They came in ravenously hungry, their eyes shining and their cheeks glowing red. "I wish we could take a picture of them for their mother and father, the way they look right now,” Mrs. Martin said. “They wouldn’t worry if they could see them looking like this.”
The children had pictures with them, pictures of their mother and father, in a folding leather frame. Their father didn’t look much more than a boy himself, yellow-headed like Michael. Their mother was dark and pretty, with a lovely smile. “Like the Queen’s,“ Mrs. Martin said to herself.
They had snapshots, too, most of them taken at Woodsley Hall. There was one of all four of them in front of the manor house with two beautiful setter dogs. It was a huge place, the house, but it looked comfortable and homelike, the kind of place children would love. Lord and Lady Marriot looked like any ordinary young couple; they had on old tweed suits and they were smiling.
There was another picture, one that came in a letter from their mother. It was of their father, in his R.A.F. uniform, and their mother, little beside him, in uniform, too. They were laughing, as if they wanted to show Penny and Michael what line joke it was to be dressed up liked that. Their father had written on the end of the letter: “I’m doing some nice long flights these days. Sometime I might swoop all the way across the Atlantic just to see you both. How would you like that?”
It was this last picture that made Mr. and Mrs. Martin realize more than ever what war meant. Michael, they agreed, knew a little about it, but not much, not anything frightening. Penny, for all her talk of planes and ambulances, knew nothing at all.
It was after the children were in bed one night that the call came from George. “Young Lord Marriot’s reported missing,” he said. “He was on a night flight over Germany and he hasn’t come back. There’s still a chance he’ll turn up, but I’m afraid he’s gone for good.”
Mrs. Martin felt dizzy. Her heart acted up sometimes lately; she couldn’t say anything, but she could hear George’s voice, small and far away. “You all right, Mother?” he was saying.
“I’m all right now,” she managed to say. “It was just the shock, for a minute.”
“I should have asked for Dad,” he said. “I guess I’m upset myself. What do you think about telling the children? I don’t think they should know till we’re sure, but I’d hate them to hear somebody talking about it around here. Maybe it would be safer to tell them.”
“Of course they mustn’t know,” Mrs. Martin said. “You leave them with us a while longer, George. They won’t find out up here.”
“Sure it wouldn’t be too hard on you and Dad?”
“Your father’s taken a new lease on life since they came,” Mrs. Martin told him. “And I’ve been trying to think up some excuse to keep them longer. Don’t you worry about that.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s all right—” He sounded as if a load had rolled off his shoulders. “I’ll get up to see you soon.”
Mrs. Martin went back to the dining room, where they always sat evenings.
Mr. Martin looked up from his pa|x:r. “George want to come up for the youngsters?” he said. Then he saw her face. “What’s the matter, Mother? You’re white as a sheet!”
“It’s the children’s father,” she said. “He’s missing. Reported missing on a night flight over Germany.” “Pshaw!” Mr. Martin got up, paced up and down the linoleum the way he did when he was upset. “Missing, eh? Do we have to tell the children?”
"No. I said we’d leave it a while. Reach me a handkerchief out of my workbasket, will you, John?”
Mr. Martin bought the handkerchief. “Maybe he’ll turn up,” he said hopefully.
“George doesn’t think so. He said the children could stay here a while longer.. They’re a lot more apt to hear about it down at their place.”
"That’s good,” Mr. Martin said. “Poor little tykes! Their father looks like a fine boy, too, from his pictures.” It was hard not to show that they were worried and anxious. They jumped whenever the phone went, listening for their ring, and Mary Smithers went around all next day with her eyes red, in spite of Mrs. Martin telling her to be cheerful on the children’s account. They had to warn all the neighbors, too; someone was sure to have heard what George said over the party line. Folks listened in; they were curious about each other’s doings, but they were kind. So long as they understood, they’d never say a word in front of Penny and Michael.
GEORGE drove up one evening about two weeks later. When the children were in bed he said: “Their mother wrote Madeleine that she thought they’d better be told about their father. Just that he’s ■missing; nothing to make them think he won’t come back. She’s afraid they’ll wonder why he doesn t write. And she thinks it won’t be so hard to tell them the rest, later on, if they’re a little prepared first.”
Mrs. Martin sighed. “I suppose she knows best,” she said. She looked hard at George. “You aren’t going to take them away from us for a while yet, are you?”
George looked uncomfortable. “Madeleine thinks they should come back, but I’d rather they stayed here.”
“Better leave them, George,” Mr.
Martin said. “It’s not good for young ones to be shifted around too much. They’re kind of settled down now; they like it here.
It’s going to be hard enough on them, hearing about their father.”
George nodded. “I think so, too.
They’d better stay a while longer.”
They told Michael and Penny next morning.
“Your Aunt Madeleine had a letter from your mother,” Mrs. Martin said. “She thought you’d be wondering why your father hadn't written. It seems he’s gone off on one of those long trips he told you about, and he hasn’t got back.”
A worried frown appeared between Michael’s blue eyes. “You mean Daddy’s | missing?”
So Michael knew more about war than they had suspected. “Nothing to worry about,” Mr. Martin said. “He probably ran out of gas and had to come down.”
Michael said: “Where? Where did he go?”
“Over the Continent somewhere,” Mr. Martin said vaguely. “He’ll get back safe and sound, never you fear. Your mother just didn’t want you to worry if you didn’t hear from him, that’s all.”
Penny looked up into their faces wonderingly. Something was wrong; that was all she knew. You cant fool children, Mrs. Martin thought, watching her. They can sense something amiss just the way a dog can.
Michael followed Mr. Martin out to the barn. “Daddy must have flown over Germany.” He tried to make it offhand. “I expect he will get back all right, don’t you?” “Sure he will,” Mr. Martin said. “You figure out how long it takes to get a letter over here from England nowadays. Your father might be back this minute and you wouldn’t know for maybe three weeks. ’
He didn’t say that a cable would come in a matter of
hours. Michael didn’t think of it either, for his face brightened. “That’s right,” he said. “We mustn’t let Penny get scared, must we?”
Mr. Martin swallowed hard. “No need for anybody to get scared,” he said. “Now, young man, how about helping me groom old Bessie this morning?”
HPIIE MARTINS did everything they could think of to take the children’s minds off their father. Michael and Penny loved maple syrup, they hadn’t ever tasted it before, so one afternoon Mr. Martin made maple taffy, the way he used to do for George. He cracked black walnuts to go in it, on an old flatiron, and set the children to picking out the meats. When the taffy was just right he jxmred it out into buttered pans, and some over a dishpan of snow he liad brought in, to make maple wax.
Michael gave a little sigh. “That’s the best toffee I ever tasted,” he said. “I wish Daddy could have some. He loves toffee, too.” He looked up. “Do you suppose he and Mummy could come for a visit, for Penny’s birthday? I mean, if Daddy gets back in time?”
Mrs. Martin filled up, she couldn’t say a word, but Mr. Martin cleared his throat and patted Michael’s shoulder.
“We’d sure like to have them, Mike,” he said. “We’d better save out some syrup just in case, so Mother here won’t use it all up on us. Still,” his voice was cheerfully casual, “Penny’s birthday is pretty soon now; 1 kind of think they won’t make it by then. It might be just as well, at that. They aren’t used to Canadian winters, they wouldn’t have a chance to get toughened up slow and easy, the way you did. Easter might be a better time for them to come. And if they came Easter we’d have fresh maple
syrup to give them. There’ll be a sugaring-off before that.”
He had to explain to Michael what a sugaring-off was, and when Mrs. Martin saw that Penny’s lip was trembling she let her give Gyp a ball of maple wax. He always got it stuck in his teeth and had a terrible time, but he was so crazy about it he’d come right back for more anyway and the children laughed so hard at him they forgot to be sad.
Mrs. Martin was glad Penny had a birthday corning. She asked the little girl what she wanted for dinner; everything was to be just as she liked.
“Chicken!” Penny said, jumping up and down. “And ice cream ! And Miss Carroll and .Mr. Williams to make it a party!”
Miss Carroll and Mr. Williams had been out for dinner one Sunday and the children had taken a great fancy to them. Miss Carroll lived by herself in the village, she
taught music and sold home-made cooking to help out, and Mr. Williams was a widower, the editor and publisher of the weekly paper and a crony of Mr. Martin’s.
They were invited, and Mary Smithers baked a special birthday cake with “Penny” in pink letters on top and six pink candles, and a box arrived from England and was liidden until the birthday morning.
It made a lump come in Mrs. Martin’s throat, that box, so carefully packed and full of surprises, with something for Michael in it, tcx). Busy and sad as their mother must be over there in London, she wasn’t going to let the children miss anything if she could help it.
Dinner was to be at six, because Mr. Williams had to get his paper out that day. Mrs. Martin tucked Penny in bed for a nap so she could stay up later than usual. When she was going out the bedroom door the little girl said shyly: “Could I wear the yellow dress?”
The yellow dress had come in the box from England. “I should say you could!” Mrs. Martin told her. ‘I’ll come up in lots of time to help you on with it, before the folks corne.”
So when the chicken was in the oven, and when Mary Smithers had made the ice cream, turning the creaking old-fashioned freezer with her strong red arms until the cream was rich and yellow and crumbly, Mrs. Martin wakened Penny and helped her into the new dress. Beautiful silk, she thought, buttoning the tiny pearl buttons at the back of the neck. Yellow as buttercups, with rows and rows of smocking. It was ail she could do to keep from saying, “I wish your mother could see you now!”
She wanted to say it again when Michael came in from the barn with Mr. Martin and washed at the kitchen sink. He had on his grxxl blue suit, and his cheeks were red and his fair hair shining and smooth. “Wouldn’t his people be proud of him?” she said to Mary. “Not making any fuss about being away from home so long, and not letting Penny get frightened about—” She couldn’t finish. Even after all these weeks she couldn’t bring heiself to believe the children’s father would never come back.
MR. WILLIAMS brought Miss Carroll in his car. He had a lx>x of candy for Penny, a big one covered with shiny cellophane. Miss Carroll brought a little sweater she had made herself. “Pink!” Penny sighed happily.
Miss Carroll brought a glass of jelly for Mrs. Martin, too, the kind she made to sell.
“That was real good of you!” Mrs. Martin said, pleased. “Crab-apple with a scented geranium leaf in it—my favorite kind. I’m going to put it on the table right now, so we can have it with the chicken.”
If she did say so herself, it was as good a chicken as she’d ever tasted. Crisp and golden-brown outside,' juicy and tender when it was carved, and the sage and onion dressing just right. It did a person good to see everybody passing back their plates for more, and the children having two helpings of ice cream the way George did when he was small.
After the dishes were cleared away they went into the front room where the piano was, and Miss Carroll played for them to sing. She played old pieces, ones that everybody knew—“Old Black Joe” and “Juanita” and “Drink To Me Only.” When she started “John Peel,” Michael burst out: “That’s Daddy’s piece! He taught us!” “How about you and Penny singing it for us, then?” Mr. Martin said.
They sang it, the whole three verses, getting faster and faster the way children do. When they came to the part
"But now he has gone far away, far away—
We shall ne’er hear his voice in the mor-ning”
Mrs. Martin couldn’t help thinking of their father. She thought of him as she so often did, crashing down in flames over some German city, or falling into the dark cold water on the way home. War seemed so much more terrible when you thought of what was hanging over those innocent yellow heads.
Mr. Martin saw that she was upset. “Let’s go back in the dining room and listen to the radio a while,” he said. “It’s just about time for Mike’s and Penny’s program from England.”
They trooped out to the dining room. “It’s the Children’s Hour,” Michael explained to Miss Carroll and Mr. Williams. “It’s on once a week for us out here in Canada and the States,”
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 20
An English voice was saying: “Hello, all my nieces and nephews in Canada and the United States! This is Uncle Dan, and here is your own special broadcast from the B.B.C.”
The children crowded close to the radio, as if they could get closer to something dear and familiar. When the program was almost over the man who called himself Uncle Dan said:
“There’s someone here who wants to take the microphone away from me for a minute—someone who has a very special message to deliver. Here he is.”
Then the miracle happened. Out of the radio cabinet there came a faint clear whistle. The children’s heads went up. They quivered, incredulous, like a dog at the sound of a beloved lost voice. A man began to sing. “D’ye ken John Peel—?”
“It’s him!” Penny screamed. “It’s Daddy !”
“Hello, Penny and Michael,” the voice said, strong and warm and happy. “I hope you’re listening. I had a hard time getting out of Germany, but I couldn’t miss wishing Penny a happy birthday, could I? There’ll be a cable for you, but I wanted to say hello to you both. Mummy’s here; she wants to speak to you, too.”
MRS. MARTIN moved around the kitchen, getting things ready for the night. Mary Smithers had put on the oatmeal and damped down the fire; Gyp snored and twitched on his worn turkey-red cushion behind the stove. The windows were furry with frost, and Mrs Martin began moving her geranium plants over to the kitchen table.
Mr. Martin came in, bringing a breath of snapping cold air. “Well, Mother,” he said, “I guess this is a day we won’t forget in a hurry, isn’t it?”
Mrs. Martin nodded. She was thinking how strange it was that all the grown people had felt like crying, there in front of the radio when they found out that the children’s father had escaped, that he was alive and well. It must have been the look on the children’s faces, she decided. Once in your lifetime, if you were lucky, you might see a look like that. For a minute every one of them had looked away, as if such pure and flawless joy were something too bright for human eyes to bear.
She set the last geranium on the table, away from the frost.
“Yes,” she said softly, remembering. “This is a day we won’t ever forget.”